Not long ago, medical records were a simple list of dates, lab reports, images, diagnoses and prescriptions, hand-written by a doctor or clinician and bound into a paper folder. The single copy was kept in a file cabinet available to only a select few medical staff members in a single doctor’s office.
With the introduction of technology in the 1960s and 1970s, the medical field began to take a more comprehensive approach to medical records, digitally collecting lifestyle information, imaging notes, family history and data on overall health issues. Coupled with global access to the internet, these electronic health records (EHRs) became rich information centers for family doctors, specialists, hospitals, patients and other relevant stakeholders.
As EHRs evolved and grew in value and use, so did the potential for misuse and technical pitfalls. Ensuring records are accurate, reliable, safe and up-to-date created the need for qualified professionals with a master’s in public health degree, such as clinical informatics specialists. These professionals can meet the ever-changing challenges of providing online information in a secure and ethical manner to a variety of health care professionals and facilities.
What Is a Clinical Informatics Specialist?
In many medical situations, time is of the essence. And when emergency room doctors, allergists, nurse practitioners and office management have confidence that records stored and delivered online are secure and accurate, patient care will be more effective and efficient.
Clinical informatics specialists are responsible for digitally connecting the complex and constantly changing data elements involved in the medical needs of patients. To ensure caregivers have reliable and current medical history, assignments may include:
- Securely storing, monitoring and distributing patient records, maintaining client confidentiality and privacy
- Creating new approaches to data collection and distribution
- Developing sophisticated programs to analyze and use the data for patient care, anticipating possible treatments and outcomes
- Training medical and office staff to use the EHR beyond recordkeeping and billing purposes
- Continually monitoring system security and reliability, to ensure client privacy, safe and effective treatment options and information sharing
An aptitude for computers will certainly contribute to a clinical informatics specialist’s success. However, the soft skills of seeing patient care as a big picture, looking for better answers to complex problems and understanding the value of team development are also critical to the job.
How to Become a Clinical Informatics Specialist
Although expectations vary depending on the employer, the most common requirements on the path to become a clinical informatics specialist include postgraduate education and certification or licensing.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in information technology or a related field can be the best first step toward a position in informatics. In addition, experience such as internships or entry-level jobs in the field of medicine can provide a background in terminology as well as familiarity with the environment of a working medical facility.
Although not required for entry-level positions, a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) can broaden knowledge about the field and strengthen analytical, technical, data science and communication skills, all key to finding success in informatics. Coursework in health trends and problems, health services and policy and global health research provides a background that transfers directly to the responsibilities of a clinical informatics specialist.
Although not required by every employer, obtaining a professional certificate in this growing field demonstrates a sense of focus on, and expertise in, informatics.
The AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association) established the AMIA Health Informatics Certification (AHIC) process as a reliable measure of proficiency in the skills and knowledge to succeed as a clinical informatics specialist. Prior to sitting for the examination, candidates must present evidence of completion of a health informatics or related post-graduate degree, such as a master’s in public health degree. They should also have significant work experience in a position that requires critical thinking, leadership and management skills. Once candidates are certified, they begin to log and track activities in anticipation of recertification.
Clinical Informatics Specialist Salary and Job Outlook
As of June, 2022, an experienced and highly-qualified clinical informatics specialist can earn up to $108,000, according to the compensation website Payscale. Starting salaries may be lower, but pursuing additional education and advancement into leadership and management positions can qualify for higher rates of pay and benefits. Other factors, such as geographic location, position and employer can also affect salary figures.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of professional positions in the field of health informatics and medical records is expected to grow by about 9% between 2020 and 2030.
Maintain Data Integrity for Better Care
Because of the high cost of technology in the early years of EHRs, only select medical facilities had the financial resources to share patient information electronically. With the advancement of hand-held computers and the increasing speed of the internet, however, records can now be shared easily and quickly among most major medical systems in the developed world.
Unfortunately, one aspect of this system that is most beneficial to its users is also the aspect most likely to create pitfalls. Because so many members of each medical team can access and add information, it is essential that the integrity of records is monitored and preserved, which demands continual file analysis and an ongoing high level of seamless security. Clinical informatics specialists can ensure all necessary systems are in place, instilling confidence in every EHR user, from patient to doctor and beyond.
To pursue a challenging and rewarding career in medical informatics, start with USC’s online MPH degree. Learn how any of our six areas of concentration can help you develop the knowledge and skills to succeed as a clinical informatics specialist.